Wellington now has an establishment dedicated to the diverse cuisines of the Pacific, and it's about time. Before Lulu, Te Wharewaka was your go-to for some choice Aotearoa eats, but Lulu showcases another level of Oceania. Situated where Ancestral used to be, the energetic restaurant is the breath of fresh air Courtenay Place desperately needed. Think Pacifica/Oceanic gastronomy, but with a twist.
Unlike the kind of intimidating, mafia atmosphere of Ancestral, Lulu is instantly relaxing. Faux grass and plants adorn the ceiling, portraits of prominent Māori figures are framed proudly on the walls, and tunes like Kalohe Kai and Fat Freddy's Drop treat the ears. Much like Ancestral though, there's an indoor dining area and bar area, while the famous heated benches are still outside in the courtyard bar. You'll notice neon signs like "Tropic like it's hot" which contribute to the relaxed environment.
The menu is an honest reflection of Pacific cuisine. Think plenty of fresh seafood like Fijian snapper kokoda ($16) and yellow seafood coconut curry ($25). Other meats like crispy pork belly ($15), smoked Huli Huli chicken with pickled watermelon ($26), and even a whole suckling pig (24 hours notice is required) will challenge your decision-making skills. We tried all of the above (except for the $275 whole pig) and were astounded by the flavours. The food speaks for itself. It's fresh, it's delicious, and it's not trying to be something that it's not. Our standout dish was the Hawaiian fried rice ($21). This was a killer combination of Spam, pineapple, shiitake mushrooms and spring onion fried up into a serving of what can only be described as the ultimate comfort food. Honestly, I would have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I could (it would also make the perfect post-town feast).
Of course, dessert is the most important meal of the day and we indulged in a Pineapple Lump chocolate bar ($11) and fig leaf rice pudding ($10). Both were sensational with the former being more suited for the conventional sweet tooth and the latter offering a creamy yet refreshing combination of pear and rice pudding.
There are no courses here, so once you've ordered your dishes they'll come to you when ready. For two, we recommend getting a couple of nibbles and small plates, then one large sharing plate (or two if you're really hungry). The sharing style of Lulu's lets you try a host of different tastes so variety is key.
Skip the wine (although the list is great) and opt for a cocktail. Funky and fresh, you've got your classics as well as some unique concoctions. We had the horopito and kawakawa sour ($17) and Kupe's Odyssey ($16). The sour is a refreshing palate cleanser that keeps you on your toes, and Kupe's Odyssey is fruity and boozy, with a delightful splash of absinthe.
If you're heading out to the bar, then take advantage of the rum collection. Just shy of 100 different bottles, you can literally taste the world through this sweet spirit. Plonk down in the courtyard and soak in the atmosphere.
Lulu is simply delightful. It's serious about its food but thrives with a relaxed atmosphere. Whether you're here for dinner or for drinks, with friends or family, you'll feel right at home.